Trump needs to reject authoritarianism

Written By Mick Stinelli, Columnist

Recent weeks have seen increasing turmoil in Venezuela as countries around the world continue to back Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, and delegitimize Nicolás Maduro, the president whose recent election was denounced by much of the western world as a sham.

A populist demagogue who spawned out of the United Socialist Party of Hugo Chávez, Maduro led his country into a state of decay, where hyperinflation rendered their money worthless and left thousands fleeing the country to seek refugee status. He has constantly undermined the electoral process. He’s ambivalent to the needs of his people, and loses their support more and more every day. Maduro deserved a strong rebuke, and with the U.S. loosening diplomatic ties, he got one.

President Trump has denounced Maduro’s regime since his first days as president, speaking with opposition party leaders and inviting them into the Oval Office.

However, Trump’s tough stance on Venezuela is small potatoes compared to his cozy relationships with other autocrats. He turned a blind eye as Viktor Orban dismantled Hungary’s democracy. He refused to rebuke Russian President Vladimir Putin for meddling with the 2016 election. He has all but absolved Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for directing the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It’s time for the president to denounce authoritarianism in all of its forms. Whether it comes from Hungary’s right-wing Orban or Venezuela’s left-wing Maduro, populist demagogues are populist demagogues. Whichever side of the aisle you sit, authoritarianism should have no friend in the United States.

Maduro is an easy, leftist punching bag for a president who loves a foil. He’s the perfect embodiment of the socialist boogeyman that Trump often accuses Democrats of being. If Florida voted a Democrat as their governor, Trump warned last year, “Florida will become another Venezuela, and that is not good.” This fear mongering is perfect for Florida, where many Hispanic-Americans moved after leaving communist countries like Cuba and Venezuela.

At last week’s State of the Union speech, the president said, “We are born free, and we will stay free…. America will never be a socialist country.” The line was a clear jab at the new class of Democrats, particularly those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who declare themselves “Democratic Socialists.” This line lays bare Trump’s agenda. He is not interfering in Venezuela because of his concern for their citizens – whatever happened to “America first?” – but because it is a way for him to score political points with conservatives.

One wonders that, while there is a great need in Venezuela, whether the United States is the ideal hero to carry it out. In 1960, the U.S orchestrated a coup to overthrow the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo because the prime minister was too cozy with communist China and Russia. The CIA funded Afghan militants to push Russians out of Afghanistan; some of those militants went on to develop the terrorist group Al Qaeda. And memories of America’s failed war in Vietnam are still fresh in the minds of many.

The Venezuelan people have suffered greatly under the Maduro regime. Much of the world agrees that outside help is required to help the struggling country. But the U.S must be wary of interfering in another regime change. We must strive to inspire democracy, not to abolish socialism.